Mechanisms of physical activity behavior change in an incentive-based intervention: mediation analysis

Jennifer M. Murray, David P. French, Frank Kee, Aisling Gough, Jianjun Tang, Ruth F. Hunter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
907 Downloads (Pure)


Objective: The physical activity loyalty (PAL) scheme was a cluster randomized controlled trial of a 6-month complex intervention targeting workplace physical activity. Financial incentives were incorporated in an evidence-based behavior change program, including self-regulation techniques. This article examines short-term (< 6 months) and long-term (≥ 6 months) mediation effects on physical activity.

Method: Participants included 853 adults (457 intervention, 396 control). Physical activity was objectively assessed using pedometers at baseline and at 6 and 12 months. Hypothesized short-term mediators (e.g., self-efficacy, intentions) were assessed at baseline and 4 weeks. Hypothesized long-term mediators (e.g., habit, intrinsic motivation) were assessed at baseline and 6 months. Mediation models employed the structural equation modeling product-of-coefficients approach.

Results: Intervention participants experienced significant decreases in 6-month pedometer steps/day versus controls (b = −336, p = .02), which were partially mitigated by positive indirect effects through 6-month integrated regulation (ab = 94.7, 95% CI [18.7, 204.4]), intrinsic motivation (ab = 59.0, 95% CI [3.09, 154.5]), and habit (ab = 198.7, 95% CI [84.3, 369.9]). There were no between-groups differences in 12-month pedometer steps/day but positive indirect effects through 6-month integrated regulation (ab = 128.0, 95% CI [27.3, 313.2]), planning (ab = 115.0, 95% CI [3.71, 285.5]), and habit (ab = 153.3, 95% CI [39.3, 333.1]).

Conclusions: Most examined mediators were nonsignificant, and mediation analyses did not explain decreases in physical activity for interventions versus controls. Results show that, contrary to self-determination theory hypotheses, intrinsic motivation is not necessarily adversely impacted if financial incentives are embedded in a complex intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-297
Number of pages17
JournalHealth Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date01 Jan 2020
Publication statusPublished - 01 Apr 2020


  • Exercise/psychology
  • Female
  • Health Promotion/methods
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation
  • Negotiating


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